Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Keep Your Eye On the Ball" [Megan]

In its July 22nd editorial, "The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood," The New York Times takes its eye off the ball in play and cries foul.

The article's main points regarding the recently released undercover investigative videos of Planned Parenthood employees selling aborted fetal body parts are as follows:

• The [first] video [involving Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood's senior director of medical services] does not show the illegal sale of tissue from aborted fetuses, but a discussion of the legal collection and transporting costs of donated tissue from aborted fetuses for the purpose of medical research.
• The donated aborted "fetal tissue" is used to study and develop treatments for diseases and conditions including H.I.V., hepatitis, congenital heart defects, retinal degeneration, and Parkinson's. (The article included the National Institutes of Health's $76 million in grants last year alone for such research.)
• To fall for this campaign of deception against Planned Parenthood would surely put "women's health and their constitutionally protected rights [to abortion] at risk."

While the case regarding the manner in which these videos were made and released may be undecided, the videos were exposed. For those of us who have seen them, we still have the job of reasoning well about what we've seen. And while the choice to steer the rhetoric to the areas mentioned above traps many in a frenzied search for a foul ball in the stands, the action continues on the field as others see the larger picture, prioritize, and ask pointed questions:

• What kind of aborted fetal tissue are we talking about? Dr. Nucatola mentions specific human organs and body parts at various stages of development that are up for grabs, and they don't belong to the mother. (Note:  Two other videos have been released since.)
•That being said, whose "fetal tissue" is being used for research, even if the intent of the research is good?
• And if those donated parts come do come from a separate human being, just whose health and rights are more at risk?

The article is question begging because it assumes at the outset that the unborn are not human beings.

We wouldn't see arguments over obtainment of footage or specified funding to this degree if undercover investigative videos revealed the sale of parts from strategically dismembered 2-year-olds. Even if those parts were being donated for use to develop treatments for horrible diseases. We would see outrage of a different sort.

Why? Because we know that 2-year-olds are human and valuable, and no group in their right mind would advocate, much less fund, the intentional termination of an innocent toddler — even one that was unwanted — to farm out his organs and other parts for the benefit of others. This doesn't deny the bleak reality of diseases and conditions that cause great suffering, it simply points out that there are some lines that cannot be crossed if we mean to preserve human dignity.

So we're back to the question, "What is the unborn?" Are they human like toddlers?

The answer, which can be found in an embryology textbook — because for a scientific question one should expect a scientific answer — is that from the moment of conception, the unborn are living, distinct, and whole human beings.

Additionally, philosophy demonstrates that our value — the thing in which we ground our most basic rights, and which [rightly] fuels cries for human equality — is intrinsic, not functional. We are valuable and/or deserving of fundamental rights (such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) because we share a common human nature. Grounded in anything else, be it a trait or ability that some human beings possess, and what follows is a spectrum along which humans who have those properties to a greater degree are more deserving of basic human rights than those who have it to a lesser degree.

This is nothing new. We've seen whole classes of human beings stripped of their rights based on this kind of reasoning throughout history, and are still feeling the effects of those ideas today.

In the case of abortion, differences such as size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency aren't sufficient reasons to take the lives of smaller people over larger ones; pre-pubescent people over mature ones; people located in a specific place over those who aren't based solely on their location; or people dependent upon medicine over those who aren't.

Logically, those reasons don't hold up when used to justify abortion.

Keep the conversation on point when it comes to the entirety of what those videos expose. Ask questions that cut through unhelpful rhetoric, never forgetting that the person(s) you're talking to are just as valuable as the unborn lives you're trying to protect.

Keep your eye on the ball.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Not to Argue Pro-Choice: Eleven Completely Misguided Arguments [Clinton Wilcox]

I was recently introduced to an article written by one Seth Millstein, called How to Argue Pro-Choice: 11 Arguments Against Abortion Access, Debunked [sic]. Let's ignore the misplaced comma for a moment. Actually, let's comment on it. That comma doesn't belong there. I was once like Millstein, haphazardly placing commas with abandon, putting commas where they don't belong. My college English professor called me "comma happy" because of it and soon broke me of the habit. But I digress.

Let's start with the fact that when Millstein wants to indicate someone says something embarrassing, he points to an unrelated case of Piers Morgan not being politically correct when talking to a transgender person. It's not hard to find a video of Piers Morgan trying to come off as educated when he's clearly not. Here's a video of Michael Brown educating Piers Morgan on what the Bible actually says about same-sex marriage. But as I said, this is irrelevant anyway.

So let's take a look at these alleged common arguments and their responses by Millstein.

Argument #1 -- A fetus is a human being, and human beings have a right to life, so abortion is murder.

Millstein says something puzzling. "I'm not going to convince you that a fetus isn't a life..." No, of course you're not. Science has convinced me that it is a life. It develops itself from within, grows through cellular reproduction, and is capable of moving under its own power. You may not think it's valuable life, but the question of whether or not it's a life has been settled. That's not pro-life propaganda, that's every embryology textbook since at least the early 20th century.

Let's look at his sub-points:

1a) A fetus can't survive on its own. It is fully dependent on its mother's body, unlike born human beings.

Granted. But how does this show that the unborn doesn't have a right to live? A born infant doesn't need her mother's body to survive, but she still can't survive on her own. She relies on her parents to feed her, change her diapers, take her to the doctor for check-ups, etc. Plus, when someone is more dependent that gives us more of an obligation to help them, not less. David Lee, past director of Justice of All, uses this analogy: Suppose you are the last one out of a public pool, or so you think. You're drying off when you hear a splash at the deep end of a pool. A child has fallen in, drowning. Assuming that you can swim, do you now have an obligation to save that child's life, or are you morally permitted to walk away, since that child is now dependent only on you for survival?

1b) Even if a fetus was alive, the "right to life" doesn't imply a right to use somebody else's body. People have the right to refuse to donate their organs, for example, even if doing so would save somebody else's life.

Again, granted that no one is forced to donate organs. But this argument relies on a confusion of what rights entail and what harms are done in these acts. The act of abortion directly kills an innocent human being. The abortionist is directly responsible for that child's death and is violating her right to life by taking it. If I refuse to donate an organ, even if there is a moral obligation there, I am not violating anyone's rights by refusing to donate, nor am I directly responsible for that person's death; whatever illness they are suffering is. So for the state to force me to donate organs would clearly be wrong since they are violating my right to bodily integrity by doing so.

1c) The "right to life" also doesn't imply a right to live by threatening somebody else's life. Bearing child is always a threat to the life of the mother (see below).

That's true, but the vast majority of pregnancies are not life threatening. Even according to our own laws, you are not justified in taking somebody's life unless they are directly threatening yours. Taking someone's life in self-defense is only justified to prevent imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm. This means that a woman is only justified in killing her unborn child if the pregnancy becomes life-threatening and the child is not old enough to survive outside the womb. Abortions are not justified in the off-chance that a pregnancy may become life-threatening. After all, children have been known to grow up and kill their parents, yet I doubt anyone would justify infanticide on the grounds that the child may one day grow up to be dangerous.

1d) A "right to life" is, at the end of the day, a right to not have somebody else's will imposed upon your body. Do women not have this right as well?

This is actually a very shallow understanding of the right to life. The right to life is actually, properly understood, a right not to have your own life taken unjustly. Anyone who lives in a civilized society has someone else's will imposed upon them all the time. All laws are imposing someone's will upon you, and in many cases, rightly so. But each law must be investigated on a case-by-case basis as to its rightness or wrongness. And of course women have this right, as well.

Argument #2 -- If a woman is willing to have sex, she’s knowingly taking the risk of getting pregnant, and should be responsible for her actions.

Here, Millstein gives the most anti-intellectual of all possible responses: "that's just your opinion." I'm resisting the urge to respond with snark here. It may be my opinion, but my opinion, I believe, is correct. I could just dismiss this entire article as "just Millstein's opinion," and be done with it. But that obviously won't get us anyway. If this is the best Millstein can do, we can safely go about our pro-life work.

Millstein asserts that it's more responsible to have an abortion if the mother knows she won't be able to provide for her child, but let's think about that for a moment. Millstein is essentially saying if a mother can't provide for her child, the merciful thing to do is to kill the child. One would wonder if Millstein supports infanticide, or toddlercide, if the mother decides she just can't support her child any longer. Millstein, of course, would respond with "but the child is already born, so she can give the child to someone else to support." And of course, that argument, when applied consistently, would make abortion immoral because she can gift the child to a loving family through adoption. Of course, adoption is a very difficult decision, so I don't raise the alternative lightly. But to say that killing the child, instead of adopting her out, is the "responsible choice" is a very confused understanding of responsibility.

Of course, now Millstein makes an emotional appeal that we're trying to dictate what a woman's role and purpose is, and that we're now not arguing for the life of the child. I don't understand why Millstein doesn't think we can do both. But at any rate, since the child's life is of no concern to Millstein, we are also not trying to dictate what a woman's role and purpose is. Nature has done that, and there's a very compelling argument from Natural Law regarding what our roles and purpose are. But let's set those aside for a moment. No one is saying she must raise the child, when adoption is a very viable option, and certainly better than having the child killed.

Millstein then goes into a "common response" regarding contraception. The reality of the situation is that by having sex, the man and woman both engage in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward procreation. By willingly engaging in sex, the man and the woman create and child and places that child in a state of dependency upon the woman. So yes, absolutely this grounds an obligation to care for the child, not to kill the child. The use of contraception, while helpful to avoid pregnancy (and setting aside any question as to its morality or immorality for the moment), is only removing an obstacle to pregnancy. It is not changing the nature of the act, itself. So using contraception does not change the man and woman's responsibility to the child.

Argument #3 -- But I'm okay with abortions in the case of rape.

I believe that children conceived in rape are equally valuable to children conceived through consensual intercourse. But then again, I also oppose abortion in the case of rape. I believe that rape is a terrible tragedy, and that rapists should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In fact, I believe that rapists are not punished severely enough, and they're certainly not punished often enough. But why should the child pay with his life for the crimes of his father?

That being said, there are pro-life advocates who support abortions in the case of rape. However, it's a straw man argument to say it's because they think the child is less valuable (and some pro-life advocates even utilize this straw man against them). They believe it's immoral, but that it should be legal specifically because of bodily autonomy and the fact that they didn't consent to sex. This is a far cry from saying they believe the child's life is less valuable.

Argument #4 -- If it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Here, Millstein points to the only person on earth to talk about "legitimate rape" (Todd Akin), and tries to pawn it off as a common argument. This is disingenuous on the part of Millstein.

Argument #5 -- Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion.

Here Millstein finally gets around to talking about adoption.

Millstein argues that women wanting to get an abortion to avoiding raising a child isn't always the case, and that may be true. But it does make for the vast majority of reasons why women want an abortion.

Next he argues that hospital bills are very expensive, which again is true. However, the reason adoption costs so much money is because the woman's hospital fees are paid by the adoptive parents. So cost is not a factor that weighs into a woman's decision whether or not to adopt out her child.

While it's true that pregnancies carry with them some risk, I was reading over the link that Millstein gave regarding pregnancy being the "sixth most common cause of death for women between the ages of 20 and 34". However, according to page eight in the linked article, the sixth leading cause of death in women was "unintentional injuries." Unintentional injuries are accidents, such as car accidents, drug overdose, etc. I have no idea where, in this entire article, Millstein gets the idea that pregnancy-related issues are the sixth leading cause of death in women.

Millstein goes on to argue that there are other costs associated with pregnancy, such as teenage girls being shunned and shamed. This does happen, of course, but how does this justify killing her child? It certainly doesn't, any more than it would justify killing her child if she gives birth and the shunning and shaming doesn't stop. And of course, there is he risk of violent retribution from abusive partners and parents, but I think a better solution is to get her help, not to kill her child. After all, again, if this was a toddler and not an unborn child we were talking about, this certainly wouldn't excuse the mother killing her child.

Argument #6 -- When abortion is legal, women just use it as a form of birth control.

Millstein wants evidence, but I think that every abortion is evidence of this claim. This is not an argument I use, but since every abortion is done because the woman doesn't want to give birth (for whatever reason), then really, every abortion is an act of birth control. Contraceptives are different. Contraceptives literally prevent conception, which is why they are different from abortions.

Millstein argues that since contraceptives are cheaper, easier, less painful, etc., then getting an abortion, it's odd to suggest that abortion would be their preferred method. But this argues no such thing. This doesn't argue that abortion is their preferred method, only that abortion is a method of birth control, which it clearly is.

While it's true that women will seek abortions regardless of whether or not it's legal, we have to remember that all crimes are done despite its illegality. Rapes, murders, and thefts are still committed even though they are illegal. So the fact that woman will do them anyway is irrelevant to the question of whether or not it should be legal.

He also argues that when contraceptives are widely accessible, abortion rates go down. However, the link he provided certainly doesn't prove this. The only line I could find that even addresses this question is the following: "[Abortion rates have] slowly dropped over the last several years because poor women have not had access to Family Planning Facilities for education and prevention of pregnancy through effective birth control measures." However, the site provides absolutely no evidence for this claim. In fact, it is more likely that abortion rates have dropped due to education of what abortion does to unborn children, and the pro-life legislations that have been put in place, such as mandatory waiting periods, needing to notify parents, etc. Michael New has done research in this area and has argued that it is actually these pro-life laws that have resulted in decreased abortion, not increased access to contraceptives. [1]

Argument #7 -- Abortions are dangerous.

This is an argument I definitely don't use. Abortions may be dangerous. It doesn't follow that abortions should be outlawed, unless you think driving should also be outlawed. So I'm not going to spend too much time here. I just want to respond to a few of Millstein's claims here.

It may be true that the risk of dying in childbirth is 13 times higher than dying in abortion (though Millstein doesn't support that point), what he neglects to mention is that the number dying in childbirth is 18.5 in 100,000. That amounts to about 0.0002% of women who die in childbirth. That's a very small percentage of women, certainly not nearly big enough to justify abortion in any other situation other than the pregnancy becoming life-threatening. So claiming that childbirth is 13 times more dangerous than abortion is another disingenuous move on the part of Millstein.

I don't know the situation in Romania. My guess is Millstein hasn't done the requisite study on the country to know if he's giving us accurate information (this is based on the other shoddy research he's done so far). However, legalizing abortion is not what makes it safer: advancements in medical technology does. At least in the United States, roughly 90% of illegal abortions prior to 1973 were done by doctors in good standing in their community. There is no reason to believe that it will become dangerous again once driven underground again in the United States. See my article here for the source to the 90% claim, as well as more on the question of the safety of illegal abortion in the U.S.

Millstein again mentions the health problems this has on the children. But I must, again, return to the fact that Millstein's answer for possible health problems is to kill the child. I think a better solution is to foster a nation that cares about children, fostering the idea that children are valuable and that anyone who conceives a child needs to take responsibility for them. Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has caused us to separate sex from its procreative function, so people no longer think we have that responsibility. However, while Romania may have had an orphan crisis, the United States never did, and there is no reason to suspect that we will if abortion is once again driven underground. Of course, this is all predicated on the fact that Millstein picks and chooses his evidence, focusing on a country like Romania, but ignoring a country like Ireland, one of the most pro-life countries and also one of the safest places in the world to be a pregnant woman.

Argument #8 -- What if Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King had been aborted?

This is not an argument I defend, and it is much more common than it should be. It's a bad argument, so I'm not going to defend it. Not only because a pro-choice person can respond as Millstein did, that the unborn child might turn out to be another Hitler or Pol Pot instead, but also because it gives the false idea that a person is only valuable insofar as what they can do for society, which is false. Human beings are intrinsically valuable, valuable in and of themselves.

Argument #9 -- Many women who get abortions regret their decisions later on.

This is another true argument but, like the argument from abortion's danger, is irrelevant to the morality or immorality of abortion. You may regret having that piece of cheesecake last night. It doesn't follow it was immoral to have it. Plus, to counter it, all a pro-choice person has to do is find women who believe their abortion was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Argument #10 -- Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for things they find morally disagreeable.

This is not an argument against abortion. As such, I won't respond to Millstein's argument here.

Argument #11 -- What if your mother had aborted you?

This is definitely a bad argument. Whether or not the pro-choice person you are talking to was glad his/her mother aborted them is irrelevant to the point of whether or not they should have the right to.

So there you have it, Millstein's "11" arguments against abortion choice. It's actually 10 common arguments, one that Millstein is trying to pawn off as common to make pro-life people look bad, and one that has nothing to do with being against abortion access, so it's more like nine common arguments, one ultra-rare one, and one irrelevant one. Of those nine, two of them are really bad, and two of them, while common, are irrelevant to the core issue of whether or not abortion is moral or should be legal. So we're left with five good arguments against abortion access, and Millstein's responses to them are completely lacking in intellectual depth or logical thought. I think it's safe to say that the pro-life argument is sound.

[1] See Michael New, "Analyzing the Effect of Anti-Abortion U.S. State Legislation in the Post-Casey Era," State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 11(1): 28-47, as well as this paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is Abortion Equatable to Circumcision? [Clinton Wilcox]

A friend on Facebook posed a question to me that he had received from a pro-choice person. The question was, "if the unborn feel pain, should we, then, outlaw circumcision?"

Now, it's not my desire here to get into the circumcision debate. I actually don't have a firm view on it one way or the other. What I do want to comment on quickly is the inability of many people to understand what is good for a person, and/or to think critically about their arguments and reject them if they are bad. This one is a really bad argument.

I understand the person who posted this likely doesn't consider abortion to be bad. But he/she should have at least been able to understand that since my friend is pro-life, he would consider abortion to be bad. Which means that there is a difference between abortion and circumcision -- one that is meant to kill the child, and one that is meant for the child's own good. Whether or not the infant feels pain or can consent to it, since circumcision is meant for the child's good, the doctor and parent has a moral right to make that decision on behalf of the child. There might be an argument that circumcision really does not do the child good. I don't know enough about the debate to make this determination. But if circumcision does have good benefits for the child, then it is certainly moral to circumcise a child.

So there is a huge difference between a procedure meant to kill a child, abortion, and one meant for the child's own good, circumcision. The inability of many people to be able to distinguish between good and bad (or moral and immoral) is but a sad commentary on the state of our society.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Should Men Be Able to Back Out of Pregnancy? [Clinton Wilcox]

I'd like to take a moment to respond to a meme that I have seen floating around Facebook:

Essentially, this meme is stating that if women can't back out of pregnancy, then men shouldn't be able to, either. This is one of those arguments that pro-choice people should be able to immediately recognize as a bad argument, but it still gets traction anyway.

The reality is that already, men can't back out of pregnancy. There are child support laws which require a man, if he does not want to stick around, to provide financially for his child. In fact, since in some cases the law recognizes that the needs and rights of the child outweigh the desires of the parents, there have been cases in which a father, who clearly did not want to be a father and was not aware his sperm had been stolen and used to conceive a child, was still legally required to pay child support.

This meme wants to paint pro-life people as inconsistent, but any pro-life advocate worth his/her weight in gold-pressed latinum would agree that men should not able to back out of pregnancy, any more than women should be able to. Perhaps they mean that a man shouldn't even be able to leave the relationship, since the woman can't leave. However, this ignores two key aspects: first, if the woman backs out, she kills her child. Second, the woman can gift her child to a loving family through adoption, so by not aborting she is not required to raise the child herself.

However, I do think that, even though we have child support laws, a man is doing something morally wrong if he impregnates a woman and leaves her. He needs to be a man and take responsibility for his actions, to say nothing of the fact that a sizable number of women likely would not abort if they have the support of their boyfriend. Despite the desires of whoever created this meme, it actually underscores the inconsistency of legalized abortion: a woman can back out of her pregnancy but a man can't. A woman can have her child killed but if she decides to have the child, the man must stick around or pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over 18 years while his child grows.

So while this meme attempts to paint pro-life people in an inconsistent light, I don't know of any pro-life advocates who would say that a man should not take responsibility for the child that he creates. But since the situation we have now is that a man can't back out of a pregnancy because the child's needs and rights must be respected, maybe we should think twice about whether or not a woman should be able to back out of one.

Friday, June 12, 2015

On Human Cloning [Clinton Wilcox]

I recently made an appearance on the Atheist Analysis podcast to talk about stem cell research and cloning. In this podcast I decided to focus on non-religious reasons for my position since I was talking to two atheists. However, I recently received a follow-up e-mail from a listener regarding what the theological response to cloning would be. I was informed that this would make a good topic for an article, so here it is. Most of the information contained in this article was influenced by Edwin Hui's fantastic book, At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics. I don't agree with absolutely everything in the book, but that's only a small minority. If you are interested in more information on cloning, or most other topics relating to bioethics, you should read that book. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, "do it! Do it now!"

Basically, there isn't really a theological case against (or for) human cloning because like abortion, there really isn't a discussion of cloning in the Bible. However, unlike abortion, in which it was occurring in pagan nations but there is silence in Scripture because Christians simply weren't engaging in the practice, the Bible is silent on cloning because at the time the Scriptures were written the practice wasn't even on humanity's radar as a reality. So in regards to human cloning, we can take what we know from Scripture and then come to a conclusion whether or not human cloning is permissible from there.

Biblically, we are considered full human beings made in the image of God from fertilization (see my article Does the Bible Justify Abortion? for more on this). God is the author of life, and only he has authority over it. In certain cases, that authority has been given to human beings (such as the ability to deliver capital punishment), but only in those specific cases. In the cases of abortion and human cloning, that authority has not been given to us.

With Jurassic World out today (don't worry, no spoilers!), I think it's appropriate to talk for a moment about Ian Malcolm. The original Jurassic Park was a movie about cloning Dinosaurs, not human beings, but something that Malcolm says in that film is something that I quote often, and I think about whenever I hear about some of the things scientists are willing to do. It is also appropriate in the context of cloning humans. Malcolm said, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." This is an excellent example of why science needs philosophy. Left unchecked, scientists can do just about anything once they learn enough. But as the Federation President once said in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "Just because we can do a thing, it does not necessarily follow that we must do that thing."

So I think it's important to point out that I don't hate technology, and I'm not afraid of technology, per se. I just think that when it comes to what technologies we ought to be using and developing, we need to think carefully about it.

One of the main problems with human cloning is that it hasn't be perfected. There has been some success in cloning animals, such as the sheep Dolly. However, before Dolly was successfully cloned, 277 attempts in cloning were made, with only 29 resulting in embryos that lived longer than six days (Hui, At the Beginning of Life, p. 241), This means that hundreds (perhaps many more than in cloning sheep) of human embryos would be destroyed and experimented on for the purpose of scientific advancement. If the unborn are full human persons (as I have argued elsewhere), then this is tantamount to human experimentation, which is highly immoral.

The problem with some reproductive technologies, like cloning, is that it places the desires of the parents above the natural rights of the child. Two of the main reasons for cloning are to grow body parts or organs to replace your failing ones, or to replace a loved one who has died. In both cases, the natural rights of the child (even if the child is biologically identical to you) are ignored.

A cloned human being would be a full human being, just like any other person. This means that it would be wrong to kill them unjustly, even if the purpose for their creation was to replace your failing body parts. Growing a clone for his/her body parts will treat this new human as merely a means to an end, which is highly immoral, as all human beings must be treated as ends in themselves.

A cloned human being to replace a loved one suffers a different problem. If a grief-stricken parent loses a beloved child and attempts to clone the child, there is no guarantee the child will be exactly the same. In fact, the child likely will not be. Even identical twins have differences. In some twins, one is right-handed while the other is left-handed. This is because genes, even identical ones, express themselves differently. And since nurture is at least as important as nature in our development, a cloned child likely will not turn out exactly the same. If we could somehow find Mozart's DNA and clone him, he may very well turn out to be a drunken deadbeat, or an athlete, since he would not have the same overbearing father the first Mozart had to drive him to greatness as a composer.

Children have natural rights as human beings, which includes the right to life. This also includes the right to uniqueness. To usurp these rights for the desires of the parents would be very wrong.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

John Reasnor Fails to Show That Incrementalism is Unbiblical [Clinton Wilcox]

"Abolitionist" John Reasnor has posted up his rebuttal to my opening argument. You can view his opening argument here. You can view my opening argument here. You can view John's rebuttal here. You can read John's closing arguments (in response to this one) here. Thanks to Scott Klusendorf and Steve Hays for their helpful comments.

To review, the resolution of the current debate is as follows: "Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture." John is affirming that resolution. I am denying it. Since John is affirming the resolution, he bears the burden of proof in our exchange.

Put simply, John must show from Scripture that incrementalism -- the legislative strategy of saving every life we can right now while working to save all children as soon as possible -- is impermissible. He can do this one of two ways. First, he can point to direct commands in Scripture that have incrementalism in mind and subsequently foreclose on it. For example, the Apostle Paul references sexual ethics numerous times in his writings, most notably the commands that believers "flee sexual immorality" and "glorify God" with their bodies (1 Cor. 6). In this case, no guesswork is required. The instructions are clear to anyone who can read the text. Second, in the absence of direct commands, John can argue from inference that Scripture forbids incrementalism. That is, he might say there's a distinction between words and concepts. Although Scripture doesn't use the term incrementalism, it nevertheless repudiates the concept by inference.

John concedes the first option is not available to him. There are no specific commands in Scripture that rule out incrementalism. In fact, as John points out, there is no discussion of it whatsoever! Rather, the terms "incrementalism" and "immediatism" are historical terms "invented by abolitionists" and "defined by abolitionists" nearly 2,000 years after the closing of the canonical documents. By admitting the term is not found there because it was invented and defined by 19th-century abolitionists, John is admitting the biblical writers did not have it in mind.

With that admission, John's burden of proof grows. If the biblical writers did not have the term in mind, John will face a stronger (though not impossible) challenge demonstrating that Scripture condemns it. In short, he must rely on inference.

Here, though, John must be extremely careful. An inference argument requires a logical (as opposed to ad hoc) extension of a larger biblical principle to a specific behavior not mentioned in Scripture. John must show, in other words, that a general -- or, preferably, universal -- principle applies to incrementalism. He can't just cite some particular command to a particular biblical character (or particular episode), then assume it's universal. Without proper controls, that leads to absurdity. Not every Biblical command is a universal command for all people at all times. Not every episode in Scripture is a paradigm to be emulated by all people at all times. To succeed, John must demonstrate a logical structure that supports extending a universal biblical principle to an unmentioned behavior, incrementalism.

This he does not do.

First, though he asserts that incrementalism is Biblically proscribed, he does not support that assertion with anything like a theologically robust case, as I explain below. Instead, we get a smattering of poor analogies that are exegetically fallacious and, even if they were valid, ironically point to a God who delivers his people incrementally. Second, John's appeal to the history of abolitionism is not only debatable, it's irrelevant to what he must prove. Even if he's right on early abolitionist thinking, it still does not make his case from Scripture that incrementalism is wrong. Third, instead of Biblically grounded arguments, we are treated to a series of ad hominem attacks which, even if true about me, do nothing to support the resolution he must prove. In short, John's response to my opening is, in large measure, either misapplied theology or an exercise in changing the subject.

For example:

1) John claims that immediatism is God's prescribed method, but his support for that claim is weak and questionable. He gives the example of Moses, where God gave him a specific command to free the Israelites, all the Israelites, from Egyptian captivity. Here we have a classic example of an exegetical fallacy -- namely, reading historical texts as prescriptive rather than descriptive. While the Bible conveys truth, not every detail or biographical example is meant to teach a normative principle we are obliged to follow. As more than one Biblical scholar points out, much of the Bible is made up of detailed information that relates to the overall structure of salvation history, but is not meant to convey moral guidelines. In short, we must understand the difference between prescriptive and descriptive material, which John confuses with his Moses example, which in turn results in a false analogy. Just because God gave Moses specific instructions for a specific purpose in Exodus does not mean that specific instruction is a normative principle that can be applied to us today. To cite an example: while it's true in Acts 1 the Apostles cast lots to replace Judas, it does not follow we should select church leaders that way. That's just how it was done at that time. Ironically, even if we adopt John's view and draw a moral principle from God's instruction to Moses, the Biblical narrative at that point works against John, not for him. Notice God's instruction to Moses was incremental. That is, God tells Moses to only free the Israelite slaves, not any of the other slaves. John gave other analogies to support his claim, but these were equally false analogies because these were Jeweish kings in a theocracy, not democratically elected officials in a constitutional republic like ours. Thus, John has failed to give any evidence whatsoever that God's prescription for us today is immediatism in AHA's understanding of the term.

2) John's use of history does not help his case for the simple reason that it's beside the point. The resolution he must prove is that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture, not that it's incompatible with early abolitionists. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl points out, it's not enough to cite an authority and declare victory. You must go further and present an actual argument for why the authority is correct. So, merely citing Garrison won't help here. In fact, it just gives John more work. Not only must he make his case from Scripture, he must make an additional case that Garrison was biblically correct.

3) John's ad hominem attacks against me do not help his case. Suppose he's correct that I'm an antinomianist (i.e. that I believe there are no moral laws God expects us to obey), that I'm fighting abortion for humanist (not biblical) reasons, that my pro-life activism is not informed by God's hatred of murder, that I'm insensitive to Christ's commands, that I lack faith in God, and that my ultimate faith is in the political machine. Well, maybe I am and maybe I'm not that bad. Regardless, how do my alleged character flaws make his case that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture? At best, he shows I'm unregenerate and lost in my sins. He certainly does not show that he's made his case. Indeed, I could be a complete atheist and John still loses because the debate is not about me, but John's ability to successfully defend the resolution, which he's not done. A bad Clinton Wilcox doesn't make a good argument for John Reasnor.

4) John misconstrues my point about that which belongs to Caesar. He apparently believes that when I quoted Jesus regarding Caesar, I was stating that the government has the right to decide who lives and who dies. This is simply an uncharitable reading of my words. Any honest reader will observe this is not what I meant. It was in the context of governing authority, but nowhere do I indicate that the government has this authority (especially since I have, time and again, argued that only God has that authority, and I have argued, time and again, that abortion should be illegal). John is a theonomist, meaning that he believes all kingdoms, now, are called to bow down before Christ and be Christians. I believe in a two-kingdoms view, meaning that Christians are called to personal holiness now, and nations that are not theocracies (i.e. any nation that is not Old Testament Israel) are not called to be "Christian nations". There will come a time when Christ will bring down all of his enemies, but that won't be until the end times (whenever that may be). Theonomy is based on a false interpretation of Scripture. I don't see how we can square theonomy with verses such as Jesus saying to render unto Caesar what are Caesar's (so Caesar, and all rulers, which are instituted by God, are given their authority by God), Jesus telling Pilate that his authority to put Jesus to death was given him by God (John 19:11), and Paul's admonition for us to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1). There is absolutely no way that John can get from my words that I believe whether babies should live or die falls under the authority of our governing bodies.

5) John presents no biblical case against incrementalism as a political strategy. John's only response was to allude to several books in the Old Testament without arguing why they foreclose on incrementalism. What political strategy do those books mandate? John doesn't say. Given he presents no argument from those books, but merely mentions them in passing, there's nothing for me to refute here.

John did give us a few verses regarding politics, though. I find it amusing that one of the verses he cites is Romans 13:1, which says that we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities, because their authority was given to them by God. So yes, even pro-abortion Barack Obama was put in place by God. Thankfully, in a constitutional republic like ours, we still have two strategies we can pursue simultaneously. First we can challenge evil and change hearts through the preaching of the gospel. Second, through the application of civil law, we can work to restrain heartless individuals. As Martin Luther King famously said, "The law can't make the Whiteman love me, but it can sure stop him from lynching me."

Unfortunately John has plucked many verses out of context as prooftexts to try and support his contention (which is a lousy way to do exegesis). Proverbs 11:10-11, and 14:34 aren’t about politics at all; they’re about contrasting the righteous from the wicked. Proverbs 29:2 also isn’t a political prescription. Yes, when a wicked man rules, people groan. But where is the prescription in this verse? (I’m not going to go through all of John’s out of context verses here.)

Additionally, while John is correct that Jesus is king, his prooftexts don't do the work he thinks they do. Romans 16:20 says that Jesus will crush Satan, but this does not show that nations now are required to worship Jesus as a nation currently. John continues to point to the life to come to show how he thinks things are supposed to be now, such as in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul says that God will eventually abolish all political powers and reign after the final resurrection. Of course, John conveniently neglected to mention the verses that precede verse 25, which clearly state that at the end, Christ will abolish all rule, authority, and power. Until then, we have plenty of verses that tell us that the authorities we have in place are established by God, so we are to submit to them.

My responses to John’s analogies were not assertions. I gave reasons why they are false analogies. John’s only response, essentially, is “nu-uh.”

John goes on: “I agree that God gave specific commandments to specific people, however, my argument was never that modern Americans should be seeking the freeing of Israelites from Egypt, but that all the earth should obey God’s commandments and should worship Jesus Christ as King.”
Odd, since you gave an example about Moses freeing the Israelites from Egyptian captivity. The promise was given to Moses for that purpose, so you are drawing a false conclusion from this analogy. It’s also odd that you would use an Old Testament example since Jesus Christ had not yet been revealed as the Messiah; so how can you draw that conclusion from this example?

John says we do have specific commandments, and responds with Jesus summing up the Old Testament Law (love God, love your neighbor). However, this is not a political prescription. John is simply pulling verses out of thin air to try and prove his position. Yes, we’re supposed to love our neighbor. I should be doing things to help my neighbor. But this says nothing about what sorts of legislation we ought to be putting in front of our legislators.

The rest of John's arguments are simply not relevant to the resolution, that Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. John simply has not proven this. It should be clear to any honest observer that John has failed to successfully affirm the resolution.

House Keeping Matter: Defining terms

Under his “other things” heading, John essentially concedes my case regarding the definitions of "incrementalism" and "immediatism". He affirms that these words are not used in Scripture, and that he must resort to historical arguments, not Scriptural ones, in order to make his case. But the resolution is on whether or not incrementalism is Biblical, not whether it is historical. Since incrementalism is not condemned in Scripture, and John has told us that there is no discussion of it in Scripture, the resolution is negated. Incrementalism, even if it is bad pragmatically (and there is a lot of evidence that it has saved a lot of lives), is not incompatible with Scripture.

John asserts that I am muddying the terms, but this is simply false. John didn’t give us any definitions of these terms in his opening argument, which means I was forced to. John simply doesn’t understand how language works. Words evolve. So to say these words are the way they have been historically used is irrelevant to this debate. What matters is how they are used now. I’m willing to grant John’s late definition of immediatism, although he has supplied no evidence, not a single quote from a slavery abolitionist, that their understanding of immediatism is the same as AHA’s understanding of it. We are debating incrementalism, not immediatism. He is free to define "immediatism" any way he chooses.

John also didn’t give a definition of incrementalism in the debate. But since I am the incrementalist, it seems that I should be the one to define it in this debate. By insisting I adopt a view that I don’t adopt, John is essentially attacking a strawman. John said, “Incrementalism is a primarily political strategy that seeks the establishment of justice, by means of legislative compromise and regulation that results in the overturning of Roe vs. [sic] Wade or laws deemed unjust.”
John then insists that I attack his actual position, instead of using my own definition of incrementalism.

This is an illegitimate move on John’s part. First, if he insists on using this definition, then great! We can go home and call it a day. John and AHA should stop trying to get in the pro-life movement’s way because they oppose an idea of incrementalism that the pro-life movement opposes. We’re literally wasting our time debating if this is the definition that John wishes to attack, because this is not the position that I hold. If John still thinks I am in the wrong for being an incrementalist, he will have to attack the position that I hold, not the position that he thinks I hold and would rather attack (since it’s easier to refute). The pro-life movement is not compromising, nor does it believe in regulating abortion.


John's argument that incremental legislation doesn't save any lives, even if true, is irrelevant to the resolution he must defend, namely that Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. In one sense, this is a huge distraction. Even if it was true, that wouldn't prove that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. It could be compatible with Scripture, even if it's a bad strategy. But since John brought it up, even though it's irrelevant, I will respond to it.

John asserts the claim that abolitionists are sacrificing children that would have been savable with incremental legislation is a false claim and unprovable. Indeed, he doesn't present one shred of empirical evidence to support it! Meanwhile, Michael New's research shows that incremental legislation saves lives right now, giving us a chance to limit the evil done while, at the same time, working toward the protection of all children. (Note that "PChem", affiliated with AHA and writing on their blog, has tried to challenge Dr. New's research. Here is a response by Steve Hays challenging PChem's analysis.) So here's the question John needs to answer: Should those children saved through incremental legislation have been allowed to die rather than passing bills to save them? This is the question Cunningham put to Hunter in their debate that Hunter refused to answer. Now I don't agree that incremental legislation isn't working, but let's say it wasn't. Every single life spared by incremental legislation would have been a life lost as a result of abolitionist "purity." These are concrete lives that have been spared that are in danger from absolutist thinking.

John continues, "Incrementalists often make the claim that their iniquitous and partial decrees save many lives. However, the primary effect and the only proven effect of any incremental bill is solely the stated effect of the bill. A law outlawing partial birth abortion only does just that. A law banning after 20 weeks only does just that." This is simply absurd and unreasonable argumentation. Yes, a law banning partial birth abortion will only ban partial birth abortion, and a law banning abortions after 20 weeks only does just that. But does John not understand that these laws save the lives of the children would would have been killed by partial birth abortion or who were older than the cut-off? Those lives are concrete lives that have been saved. Thanks to incremental legislation, Texas abortion clinics have dropped from 41 clinics in 2013 to eight in 2014. Incremental legislation results in abortionists losing their license and clinics being shut down. And even though incremental legislation doesn't end all abortions right now, we continue to work toward ending abortion altogether and meanwhile educate the culture and try to save as many lives as we can through education and helping pregnant women, until such time as we can end abortion altogether.

Planned Parenthood and pro-choice bloggers/authors know that incremental legislation works, and that it is only a stepping stone to eventually undermining Roe v. Wade and overturning it. The only people who don't get that are "abolitionists."

Very little of John’s rebuttal pertained to the resolution at all. It is patently clear that John has not affirmed the resolution, and I have clearly negated the resolution. John has not even responded to my arguments against the resolution, so they go through as successful.

Closing Statement:

John has clearly not made his case regarding the resolution in neither his opening statement nor his rebuttal. Instead, he has resorted to personal attacks, which indicates he apparently has no case to make in defense of the resolution. That's very disappointing to me, as I was hoping for an intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas on the exegetical evidence from Scripture. I am the kind of person who is very open to evidence and am willing to change my mind if I feel someone who disagrees with me has the stronger case. John had a chance to try and change my mind but has failed in that attempt.

John supplied no syllogism, no citations of commentaries, and was so careless he even quotes Doug Wilson who appears to support incrementalism. For example, in an article called With Stirrups Raised to Molech, Wilson wrote the following: "The pro-life cause is one where conservatives have fought a successful incremental battle. The carnage has certainly been terrible, and there is still a long way to go, but one full generation after Roe v. Wade, we still have a robust pro-life movement, and it is a movement that has been making significant headway in state after state. In other words, for the secularists, the momentum -- however inadequate it may seem to us -- is all the wrong way. There are many reasons for this. They range from improvements in ultrasound technology to shrewd incremental legislation to tireless work on the part of the pro-life activists to young people growing up into the cause."

John also quoted Francis Schaeffer, but Schaeffer, also, was an incrementalist. Everett Hatcher wrote an article called Francis Shaeffer on Tax Funded Abortion, giving an evaluation of Schaeffer's book, A Christian Manifesto. She explains that in Schaeffer's book (p.103), he uses Samuel Rutherford's models of "Three Appropriate Levels of Resistance," to discuss how Christians are to engage in civil disobedience. It's noteworthy that a few pages later (p. 108), Schaeffer wrote the following, which would be an example of Rutherford's First Level of Resistance (defending oneself by protest, which in contemporary society would most often be by legal action): "In our day an illustration for the need of protest is tax money used for abortion. After all the normal constitutional means of protest had been exhausted, then what could be done? At some point protest could lead some Christians to refuse to pay some portion of their tax money. Of course, this would mean a trial. Such a move would have to be the individual's choice under God. No one should decide for another. But somewhere along the way, such a decision might easily have to be faced. Happily, at the present time in the United States the Hyde Amendment has removed the use of national tax money for abortions, but that does not change the possibility that in some cases such a protest would be the only way to be heard." This is noteworthy because 1) Schaeffer spoke favorably of the Hyde Amendment, which is an incremental type of legislation, and 2) because Schaeffer was clearly expressing that no one should decide a person's actions for him/her. They should decide for themselves. But this clearly goes against John's (and AHA-writ large's) view that anyone who does not support their own brand of immediatist legislation are sinning.

Additionally, John quoted William Wilberforce as an "Immediatist Abolitionist," but this is simply a result of historical revisionism. Wilberforce worked incrementally to end the slave trade in England, including once supporting legislation that did nothing more than make conditions safer for slaves on slave ships (did Wilberforce support slavery, as long as the conditions were clean?) I refer you back to the Cunningham/Hunter debate for more on this, as Cunningham set the record straight on Wilberforce's incrementalism.

In a formal debate, if you have not made your case in the opening and rebuttal, you lose. It's too late to make it in your closing, which should be a summary of your case. However, since I am more interested in truth than "gotcha" points, I will graciously extend to John one more opportunity to formally present his case and will postpone the cross-x until he does. After all, there is no point in doing cross-x until a formal case is presented.

But again, even if I am wrong about Wilberforce, that doesn't make John right about Scripture.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Steve Hays on Don Cooper's Debate Review

"For some odd reason, it doesn't even occur to Don that both sides, both debaters, have a burden of proof to discharge. What makes Don imagine the onus lies exclusively on the prolifer?" 

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